Wednesday, December 15, 2010

But I'm Alive......

Recently, I had a really annoying day. It began at three a.m. with both kids waking up at exactly the same time. Big had dreamt a few hours earlier that a tiger was stalking her in the house. She ran into our bedroom with her gigantic white stuffed cat. When I say gigantic, I mean twenty five inches of white stuffed catness. She crawled into bed and, even though my husband was away for the week, insisted on being in the middle. This meant that I was teetering on the edge of the bed with a bony knee rammed into the small of my back so her stuffed animal could have enough room to sleep. I had planned on remedying this ridiculousness after she went to sleep by throwing the massive thing on the floor and scooting her over a little. Then, as if on cue, Little began hollering. Big sat up wide awake. I walked down the hall to get Little back to sleep, and Big let out a shriek about the tiger coming to get her. I leaned back into the room, pleading with her to be quiet for a second so I could get Little back down. She quieted, and I lay down with Little. As soon as three seconds of silence had passed, Big let out another screech. As I went in to quiet her yet again, Little started in and so it went, back and forth, for about three solid minutes. I started thinking about my husband's pleas for more kids and became irate at him and them. I snapped and yelled and angrily demanded that everyone get in my bed at once or suffer the consequences. Not a learning moment, I know, but it got them to shut up. Once we all settled in, I was now wedged between two small bodies-one knee now jutted into my kidney on one side and the other side was randomly elbowed in the head and face until sleep finally came. I stayed awake, of course, anticipating the blows to my face, and because I was afraid of Little rolling off the bed or Big pitching a fit upon realizing her cat hadn't made the cut and was somewhere down on the floor in the dark.

They awoke at 6:30. I dragged myself down the stairs, made my pathetic decaf, cooked a hot breakfast, clothed them, got them to school on time and was just about to make my getaway when Little wouldn't let me. I was firm and left her in a hysterical heap on her teacher's lap to go exercise before I had to go to my dentist appointment. I got in the car and the "check coolant level" light went on, as it has been for last two weeks. I had taken in the "new" car twice to fix this problem and yet the car wasn't satisfied. Foolishly, I ditched plans to exercise and drove pissily to my mechanic for the third time this month. I soon discovered that I was unable to reach his shop via the main road due to police activity that had the entire block surrounding his business caution taped off. Several police officers were walking the scene. I entered via the back alley and parked,hoping selfishly that his shop wasn't the source of all the trouble.  I waved to Mike, the mechanic, who was on the phone. Let me just say that I love Mike. He is from the former USSR and is just a lovely person and an excellent mechanic despite our issues with my coolant system. As I waited, one of the other three mechanics standing around explained that a person had died in a car accident right in front of the shop earlier that morning. Evidently there were four cars involved and two fled the scene. I could see the crumpled front of a white mini van where it had made contact with an giant oak tree. I craned my neck to try and get a look at the windshield, looking for a decal from our school. There wasn't one, which was kind of a relief. It struck me how little damage there was to have resulted in a death- doesn't take much to kill someone, I guess.

 Looking at the tree that had withstood the tremendous impact and essentially killed someone by just existing, it occurred to me that at the same time that I was tiredly making pancakes and forcing small feet into socks, someone was receiving the worst phone call they will ever get, telling them that their mother/father/daughter/ son/lover/ husband/ wife was dead.  The street was eerily quiet, due to the traffic being blocked, and the sky was ridiculously blue with a few perfect fluffy clouds here and there. I stood in the parking lot, gazing up at the tree, the sky,the clouds. It felt like a vast communal moment of silence for some poor departed soul that I knew nothing about. I hoped that their death had been painless and quick and that they didn't leave behind any children. 
A little voice inside my head said "still annoyed?". Nope, not really. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Vintage Vegas

Everyone has a Vegas story, and while mine doesn't involve amnesia, Mike Tyson or Bengal tigers, it is still worth telling, I think.

I was all of twenty three, and my live in boyfriend, Hal, had arranged for us to go to Las Vegas with a local drag queen named Sean De Lear. We were going to see The B52's play at the Excalibur and go backstage, courtesy of Miss De Lear. I have been a fan of the B52's since I first heard "Rock Lobster" and find "Dance this mess Around" and "Aint it a Shame" to be two of the most fun-to-sing-in the-shower songs ever written.
We rented a car, a Dodge Intrepid, because none of us drove a reliable enough vehicle to make the trip without getting stranded at XXYYZZ Road. On the way out of town, we stopped for snacks. Hal decided to purchase a mini keg of Asahi Beer to keep Miss De Lear and him company on the five hour plus journey through the desert. Being young and stupid, I didn't see anything wrong with it. Aside from the fact that it's ILLEGAL, I was the only one driving and wasn't going to drink, so in the grand scheme of things it seemed insignificant. That was before we got pulled over.

Just before Barstow, in the middle of nowhere, sirens appeared in the rear-view mirror. The cop said over the speaker to pull over at the next exit, which was an overpass to nothing. There was desert on one side and desert on the other. I did as he requested. Sean de Lear murmured something about how this situation wasn't optimum for a barefoot, black drag queen. I stopped the car on the deserted shoulder of the overpass and waited. The cop approached and knocked on the window with his gloved knuckle. He was a stout, fortyish guy with receding red hair and a moustache. I rolled the window down. He looked at me, almost surprised, and said "Have you been drinking?". I said no, since I hadn't. He laughed and said "Well, I got hit in the face with a blast of alcohol when you rolled down the window! Somebody is drinking in this car!" I tried to act surprised but eventually gave up, as it was clear that he knew that I knew that they were drinking when they weren't supposed to be.

He took everyone's ID and went back to his cruiser. Sean de Lear sighed heavily and said something like "Well, we've done it now honey". Hal looked back at the cop sitting in the cruiser and said quietly, "He's going to call for back up". I asked why, and he pulled a black plastic film canister out of his pocket. I didn't need to ask what was inside, I just told him to get rid of it. He couldn't get out of the car without arousing suspicion, so we sat and waited, discussing the potential jail time for possession of marijuana and sweating. The cop returned to the car and instructed Hal to get out and dump the beer. Hal picked up the mini keg and opened the door. He walked to the front of the car, set the keg on the hood and pushed in the tab. We could hear the beer splatter hitting the ground from inside the car. Sean let out a giggle and said "Reminds me of being home on the farm...". Hal casually lit a cigarette and leaned on the hood, watching the beer spill onto the ground.

We all heard the sound of tires on gravel and turned to see a second cop car with the letters "K-9" painted in black on the side. The first cop walked over to him, presumably to explain the situation. They spoke for a few minutes and then the second cop got out and opened the back door. A German Shepard bounded out and immediately began sniffing anything and everything. It looked just like the dog I had growing up, who had come to us with the name Shiksa. She was a terrific, loyal dog that would never have alerted the police that I was hiding drugs. She was no rat. This dog's name was Bruno. The first cop instructed Hal to come back around to the side of the car. He asked me to pop the trunk and exit the vehicle. He asked Sean to get out and stand next to the car. We all did as we were told and waited for Bruno to come and sniff us right to jail.

He started in the front seat and made his way to the back seat, into the trunk and on the ground around the back of the car. The second cop rummaged through our suitcases in the trunk, eventually coming across Sean de Lear's bag. Sean wasn't actually in drag at that moment, though he was wearing false eyelashes, so the discovery of some long black wigs, satin brassieres, feather boas, makeup and stiletto boots was a little awkward. The cop asked whose bag it was a couple of times as he searched. I fought the urge to say "Do I look like the patent leather stiletto boot type?". Sean claimed it as his with a casual raise of his hand. The cop pulled out a small metal army issue matchbox and shook it. "What's in here?" he asked. "Matches....", Sean said, shrugging a little, as if the question was a bit silly. The cop smiled and asked if Sean had family in the military, and he nodded and said coyly, "My Daddy was a marine...". The cop tossed the metal case back in the bag of ladies clothes and stepped away from the vehicle. He looked to the second cop with Bruno sitting patiently by his side and said "We're done here". He handed me a ticket, explaining that I'd been doing eighty nine miles per hour and had also incurred the open container violation. Most of what he said was a blur because I knew that the canister that Hal had been carrying was filled with extremely potent, skunky, stinky ganja and somehow Bruno the wonder dog had missed it. We all got back in the car and waited for the two cop cars to pull away. They sat, window to window, and chatted for a few minutes, so we decided to go while the getting was good. Sean let out a dramatic sigh and said, " Lord have mercy, I was sure I'd be running naked and barefoot across them catcuses while they used my black ass for target practice....". We all laughed. I asked Hal where he had stashed the film canister, and he pointed to the front of the car with a sly smile. "It's wedged in the grille". Sean high fived him and pulled out the metal matchbox that was in his bag. He shook it and said " Matches? Sorry Occifer, try four hits of acid and a fat old chunk of hash!!" I was a little freaked when he said acid, because that particular drug carried exceptionally harsh sentences. I can imagine that taking it across state lines would have compounded the issue significantly. Note to self- inquire about illicit substances when traveling with relative strangers. Their recreational habits can put a damper on a vacation if discovered by law enforcement.

About ten minutes down the road, the sirens appeared again. This time I had been going the speed limit. Had Bruno had a change of heart? We pulled over a second time. The cop got out and ran up to the passenger side window. Hal rolled down the window. The cop said "Just wanted to let you know that you have a warrant out for your arrest, Son, so you might want to get that taken care of when you come back". Hal thanked him and rolled up the window. As we drove away, Sean said sweetly, " Awwww, he liiiikkkesss you, Hal...". I looked at him in the rear-view mirror, laughing, and asked if his dad was actually a Marine. He nodded, adding that his father's favorite extra curricular activity was to cruise off the base with his drinking buddies and go beat up queers. I nodded back, not sure what to say. We drove in silence for awhile, and eventually they both fell asleep.

We made it to the Excalibur just in time to shower and change and get to the show. Once in the lobby, we navigated our way, single file, through the castle themed slot machines and past tables of people winning at craps and losing at roulette. With all the different casino noises- the dinging, the beeping, the yelling, the whooping-I got a little sensorily overloaded and trailed Hal and Sean like a reluctant puppy. I was about six feet behind Sean when I started hearing other sounds over the general casino din. The first sound I could make out was the tail end of "What the hell is THAT?"-uttered by a red faced button-down wearing slob who stared at Sean's ass as he walked by. The next was "What IS that thing?", uttered by someone I never laid eyes on, but whose voice cut through the noise enough that I am certain Sean heard him. The comments came like mortar fire as we weaved through the tables, machines and throngs of people to get to the feel-good zone of the B-52's concert. "Disgusting","Oh my God!" " Did you see that?" "What was that?". I was flabbergasted. I mean, Las Vegas is supposed to be a playground for freaks, right? The Shane's Inspiration of the adult world, where everyone can come and have a enjoyable time and no one is excluded for being different. Granted it was 1992, but it hadn't occurred to me that there would be a freak pecking order. These people must have had their freak meters set on high because Sean was hardly a beefy, hairy, ham fisted dude clomping around in stiletto boots and a spandex tube dress with a five o'clock shadow growing up through his pancake makeup. He possessed the waif like, tall, graceful qualities that all men who want to be women envy. He was the epitome of non-threatening, and was beautiful as a man or a woman. Most importantly, he was a lovely person. I walked in his wake through the crowd, glaring at the people who stared and whispered and said such cruel, unnecessary things. I tried to stay close, just in case anyone felt the need to reach out and touch him. I didn't expect to find humanity in Las Vegas, but maybe a little more tolerance.

The show was fabulous, and the crowd was extremely friendly, but the whole experience for me was marred by our walk through the hostile villagers. All they were missing were torches and weapons. The back stage passes never worked out, and Sean met up with a friend and disappeared until the next morning. The rest of our trip is a blur- drinking, smoking, slots, average food-Las Vegas sucked.

We got up early the next day, had a disgusting buffet and packed up the car. We picked up an extremely hung over Sean at a different hotel and left. I got another speeding ticket on the way out of town and vowed never to rent a Dodge Intrepid again. My 1984 Chevy Sprint never would have gone fast enough to destroy my driving record in less than twenty four hours.

I never saw Sean again, except in the society pages of the LA Weekly. He sang with a band and hosted various events around town. Hal and I broke up soon after, and I moved out. Hal had insisted on installing a hydroponic grow house in our hall closet. I couldn't handle the stress of the helicopters hovering at night, wondering when they were coming through the front door with battering rams and DEA vests to confiscate Hal's marijuana. It was well enough hidden that I could have claimed ignorance, but that didn't work out so well with the beer now, did it? We already got our free pass in Barstow, and I was pretty sure they gave you more than a ticket for cultivation of controlled substances. What happens in Vegas does not actually stay in Vegas, contrary to the ubiquitous ad campaign. It haunts you for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Boner and the Bully

When we moved from Colorado-with its Rocky Mountains and miles of Aspen trees-to Santa Barbara-with its smooth oceans, miles of beaches and palm trees-it was a bit of a shock. It never snowed, and everyone was tan. I had remained as pale as the driven snow but for a smattering of freckles on my face and arms, so it was like being a visitor from another planet. The natives were as sunkissed a bunch as I had ever seen and expected everyone else to be that way, too. I had heard stories about beaches further south where the tan people actually harassed the ghostly white people who dared show their melatonin challenged sun-screened faces in public.
The weekend before school started, I was invited by a future classmate of mine to an all girl sleep over. My mother dropped me off in Summerland at an enormous beach house perched on the cliff overlooking the Pacific. It had its own private beach, a yard and more bathrooms than I could count. The garage had been converted into a rec room. For hours, six of us soon to be sixth graders danced around in hot pink wigs and stretch pants to the sounds of Devo, Queen and Olivia Newton John. We gorged on frozen Snicker's bars and drank Dr. Pepper with reckless abandon. We were then herded outside to watch the neighbor boy put on a spontaneous show. It was dark and,as I peered over the fence with the other girls, I could make out the shape of a small boy standing in the window next door. He was a skinny, four foot tall surfer dude with a white blonde mullet whose idea of a "show" was to stand on his bed airguitaring to Supertramp in a pair of Raybans for ten minutes while someone trained a flashlight on him. His finale was to rip off his pants and flash his finger size dick at us. It was erect, which caused the girls to let out a horror/delight combo shreik. We all ran back in the garage and fell breathlessly on the couch. I wasn't sure what all the squealing was about until someone said "oh, my GOD, he popped a BONER!". I remember cataloging the phrase, though I've honestly never felt the need to use it, and realizing that his was the first "active member" of the opposite sex I'd ever seen. It was thrilling but also kind of gross. Welcome to California, I guess.

The following Monday, when school started, I realized during first period that I would be needing some new clothes. Although I had been given a back to school shopping spree over the summer, three essential items had been overlooked-Sperry Topsiders, Izod collared shirt and a pair of Dolphin shorts. My mother obliged, understanding from her own experiences in school that this would serve as my armour. I went to school a few days later wearing all three items- my new uniform- and was greeted suspiciously by the head meanie, Paige Putz. I have written about her in other posts, so forgive me if I loop, but she was a piece of work. She circled me outside homeroom and demanded that I show her the sole of my shoe. Evidently there was such a thing as a fake Topsider, and she needed to verify the authenticity of my recent purchase. I lifted up my leg, clearly wanting to keep things copasetic and yet ignoring the small voice telling me to kick her in the face. She peered at the embossed seal on the bottom of my shoe. Satisfied, she went for my shirt next, picking at the alligator on my left breast with her manicured forefinger to make sure I hadn't glued it on. The bell rang. I never got her take on the Dolphin shorts. I had bought the solid purple pair, which was the newest color to come out. I knew deep down that they were just clothes but somehow having the "right stuff" made sixth grade somewhat less horrific. I will say that I was a little like Marge Simpson in the Chanel dress- I wore my new uniform almost every day, pairing the shorts and the shirt with different sweaters tied jauntily around my shoulders in an effort to make it look fresh. Mercifully Miss Putz wasn't clever enough with the catty remarks or she was simply too busy preying on the kids who wore Le Tigre shirts to notice my recycled repertoire. Everyone suffered the fashion bully except the three African American kids at our school. All of them wore Le Tigre and, to my knowledge, none of them were teased. I attribute this to Putz' innate sense of political correctness coupled with her fear of having her ass kicked by the black kids.

This is floating around my brain because I know that one day soon, my darling confident girls will eschew everything Mossimo($) for anything Moschino ($$$$). They will learn that an eighty dollar sweatshirt the size of a washcloth can be purchased at Kitson Kids in every color of the rainbow. They will want it all, and I will be faced with a terrible decision: do I give them the armour they request, knowing from personal experience how it can keep the Putz' at bay, or do I teach them that, despite what every media image they encounter says, the clothes do not make the girl? At this point, I do not censor the outlandish rainbow polka dotted red and pink outfits that go to school, nor do I question the pink and black zebra striped headband that makes Big look like the lead singer of Little Loverboy. Right now, the world is her fashion oyster. Besides, her peers will crush her free spirited way of dressing soon enough. The question is when.

So what's a mother to do? Do I explain what a boner is now, so she doesn't have to find out the, um, hard way? Do I reassure her that plain yogurt is not actually filled with cum, as I was told emphatically by another sixth grader, and that being a virgin when you are eleven is totally normal? Do I take her to Roberston Boulevard for back to school shopping, despite the ridiculous cost and the ubiquitous presence of shallow, fallow reality television stars? Do I take her to Goodwill, where I buy most of my clothes, because I am cheap and know it will all end up with grease stains and washable marker embellishments? Or do I stay with Target-the Republican supporting, anti-gay funding, ridiculously inexpensive, adorably cute for what it is option for now and see how things go?
Luckily, the girls attend a school with a healthy spectrum of fashion role models-there are the Birkin bag carrying, polished, waxed, beautifully dressed moms mixed in with the perpetually in sweats, fanny pack wearing, un-pedicured, au naturel moms with visible gray hair. I'd put myself in that last group-though I'm not gray just yet- since I haven't bought a purse of note in fifteen years and actually do wear a fanny pack and sweats almost every day.
I think I will have to wait and see to answer any of these burning questions about what their future will hold, but I am inclined to do what my mom did and give them the essentials. It will give them a healthy respect for both sides of the issue and keep their heads clear so they can navigate the inevitable onslaught of surprise boners, which are much more dangerous and unpredictable than the Putz'.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Psychokiller, Qu'est Que C'est?

I have been running regularly for nearly six weeks, most often three to five miles per day, with a few breaks here and there. I have lost some weight and feel stronger, but all that pounding the pavement must be jarring my brain. I feel the need to carry ID with me because lately I have behaved like someone with early onset dementia. This became apparent when I decided that I needed new running shoes. The grey and pink pair I bought a few months ago felt less cushiony than it should, so I went to the discount shoe barn and bought a similar pair in black. I came home and put them in the closet with the other pair, noticing that there was a third pair of black running shoes just sitting there. I'd had completely forgotten about them. They got sucked into the closet vortex, and their existence was miraculously erased from my consciousness. I now have three pairs, which borders on excessive, only to discover a fourth pair later that day, also in black, that had been mistakenly put in my husband's closet. I now have four pairs of relatively new running shoes-which is ridiculous. "Out of sight out of mind" aside, this begs the question-am I delusional? I mean, I am fairly coherent in general and somewhat in control of my life, so the shoe surplus is mildly disturbing. It can't be attributed to compulsive shopping or hoarding, and I'm not prone to blackouts, so I guess I must be getting older. It's not a huge deal-they are just sneakers, not mysteriously acquired weapons or body parts. I will run them all into the ground eventually. Nobody died, so no harm no foul, right?

Well, this embarrassment of shoes was discovered the same week that I had another synapse misfire: I locked the house, leaving the key in the front door in the middle of the day. I had decided to go for a quick run before picking up the kids at school. It was already noon when I left: the cat was biting my leg; the ipod was skipping; it was raining. I grappled with the three obstacles and finally got on the road, covered with cat hair and listening to music that sounded as if it was being piped in via spotty cell phone. I returned about thirty five minutes later and, as I approached our house, I fished in my sports bra for the key. Strangely, I came up empty handed. I looked everywhere. I haven't been felt up like that since high school, but the key was nowhere to be found. I had the fleeting surge of adrenaline at the thought of having lost it, since I have no spare hidden under a faux rock or neighbor who holds a copy. I walked up the steps wondering if I could break in, and there it was, still in the door. I live in Los Angeles. The potential for disaster that leaving one's key in the front door creates is gargantuan. Any stranger delivering menus could have been taking a shower in my bathroom or making himself some tuna fish, interpreting the key as some sort of open-door policy. Worse yet, it could be the opportunity that some covert psychopath has been waiting for, having silently stalked the house for weeks from his non-descript brown van with night vision goggles and surveillance equipment. He might be hiding in the downstairs shower or be lying quietly in my bed at the very moment of my return, waiting for me to climb in so he can casually roll over and throttle me. Yes, I have watched too many scary movies, but it is too late- the imagery is already imprinted in my psyche. All I can do is try and navigate through it without panicking.

As I entered the house, I got a little chill thinking that Mr. Psychokiller may have done the same just moments before, carefully locking the door behind him and leaving the key in the lock so as not to arouse my suspicion. He could be hiding in the pantry or behind the TV or under the stairs. Worse yet, he could have made his way upstairs and found the pull-down ladder to the attic.

Ah, yes, the attic. If you google "man living in attic", there are way too many stories about people living in attics that do not belong to them. I am talking about entire families of immigrants discovered eating sandwiches in a man's attic one Sunday afternoon. I am talking about someone's house guest deciding that the neighbor's attic was preferable to their own and simply kicking in the partition between properties and taking up residence there, undetected for weeks. Then there is the most horrific attic story I have ever come across, which occurred over a decade ago. It happened to a happy family of five-two adults and three kids, 16,8, 5 or thereabouts- living in a pleasant Southland neighborhood. The Mother notices, over a period of time, that her kids are eating more than usual- cereal boxes always seem empty, the milk seems low etc. She chalks it up to growing bodies and goes about her daily routine of rousting everyone by six, feeding and clothing etc. Everyone is in the car by seven fifteen and off to school. She then goes to work and returns with all three kids around five. The Husband comes home for dinner. Everyone eats, bathes, sleeps etc. This goes on for several months until her eldest, a daughter, is found brutally murdered in the kitchen on the day of her prom. At first, the police believe her boyfriend did it because they could find no signs of forced entry or anything that indicated an intruder. They ask if anything that day might have been different from her normal routine and determine that, on the day of her death, the girl had come home early to get ready for the prom. Upon further inspection of the house, specifically the attic with the pull down ladder, they learn that someone has been living up there and has apparently been coming out during the day when the family was gone. They found empty boxes of cereal and random items that had gone missing months ago- all of which had been chalked up to a busy household. They surmised that the daughter probably surprised him in the kitchen while he was having lunch, and he killed her with a kitchen knife and fled.

Every time I go into my closet, which is between my children's rooms, I contemplate the the attic door. It hangs slightly ajar from the ceiling, creating a two inch gap of darkness. The string always sways a bit as I enter, and I become a middle aged Marg Helgenberger in the hopelessly cheesy yet thoroughly frightening TV movie from 1992,"Through the Eyes of a Killer". I imagine Richard Dean Anderson is up in some tricked out corner of the attic watching me via hidden camera. I try not to look up, but I feel the presence of someone, knowing full well that it is my own paranoia peering down from the crack in the ceiling. I figure that, if I have to run, at least I have six weeks worth of training on him. He may have been MacGyver, but I don't care who you are, sitting up in the attic watching my every move is not great exercise.

Rationally, I know that humans make a lot of noise, so unless Marcel Marceau has risen from the dead and decided to squat in our attic, we probably would have heard something by now. I often wonder about the decibel level at the Southland home where the girl was killed. They either had the TV blaring 24/7 or the insulation company they used was top notch. I mean, didn't the guy living in their attic drop his cereal spoon at least once? Stub his toe on a beam? Fart, cough or sneeze ever?

So, regardless of my mistake with the key, until I have the courage to climb up there and look, I will have to remind myself to remain calm when I hear strange noises coming from the attic (like I did while I finished writing this), or unexplainable sounds on the baby monitor. I will simply have to take deep breaths when things go missing and not revisit my well honed image of him lying on the pink sleeping bag that I simply cannot find. He is wearing my favorite dissappeared brown cashmere sweater with the leopard print hood. He is comfortably propped up by my favorite bolster pillow that vanished in its soft flannel pillowcase. He is playing the Leapster that went missing in June while wearing my expensive sunglasses that evaporated into thin air, and my missing wedding ring is on his toe. He is snacking on a box of phantom Gorilla Munch cereal that I swore I bought yesterday and patiently waiting for us to leave for school the next day so he can come down and eat an entire box of frozen gluten free waffles.

My only solace is knowing that the forgotten shoes were found after floating in the closet vortex for awhile. Perhaps the other items I cannot find are in a different vortex elsewhere in the house and not in the hands of a psycho squatter who has a thing for kids single socks and lime flavored popsicles.
Here's hoping that all missing items will eventually be liberated and welcomed back to the present. Here's really hoping they won't be inhabiting LAPD evidence bags any time soon.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Family Vacation of Death

My husband called yesterday morning saying something about the discovery of "nine heads on a golf course" in Punta Mita, Mexico. He wasn't pitching me the sequel to the Joe Pesci flop from 1997, either. He must have been talking to Mr. G again, a new acquaintance, who seems uncharacteristically "in the know" about the gory unreported details of the raging drug war in Mexico. He works with a security company, and he has a rapt audience in my husband since we are traveling to Punta Mita for Christmas vacation in seven short weeks. Mr. G has kindly, if not eagerly, sent us the official reports via email. The information is also available on the Internet and, while it is disturbing, there is no mention of nine heads on a golf course. They do mention one attack on a golf course and one head, so maybe nine simply makes for a better story. There have also been a rash of drug related murders, beheadings and car-jackings in Tepic, the capital of Nayarit, which is 80 miles north of Punta Mita. Two days ago, fifteen men from a rehab center were gunned down while working at a car wash. The homicide rate has increased by four hundred fifty eight percent in Tepic in the last six months alone, so clearly the drug gangs are ramping up their activities. They have had almost as many murders since the year began as Los Angeles has, but they only have a population of three hundred thousand, not thirteen million. Gee, that sounds like the perfect climate for a family vacation, right? "That is NOT a soccer ball,girls, DO NOT KICK THE HEAD!"

I was warned by someone that Mr. G's well intentioned sharing of information can often result in just freaking people out. He enjoys the pupil dilation and the elevated heart rates a little too much. He does a lot of "nah, you'll be fine....but did you hear about the massacre at the laundromat?". Unfortunately for us, he actually knows what is going on, which is part of the problem- knowing the facts. On the rare occasion that I see the police blotter in our rinky dink neighborhood newspaper, I often feel a little less safe because most of the houses that get robbed in any given week are two or three blocks from mine. Had it gone unread, I would be blissfully unaware. I tell myself that dreadful things can happen anywhere. If the gang warfare in Tepic gets worse, it is still miles from where we will be and unlikely to affect us, except maybe the heads on the golf course. That might put a damper on his vacation if the trajectory of my father in law's golf ball is interrupted by a severed head. Since I won't be playing golf, for me the concern is the remote stretches of winding coastal roads between our accommodations and the town. The very thought of ever leaving the vacation house gives me the willies. I can't help but play out the scenario of the inevitable car jacking on the way to a nice dinner, or returning from the beach, where a black SUV cuts us off in our rental van and forces us to stop. Four men get out, all dressed alike, with mirrored aviator sunglasses and automatic weapons. They demand our money, belongings, the car. They even take the kid's toys. The kids are crying. We are crying, and all of us are scarred for life, if we survive at all. So far only one person has been shot during a car jacking, but many have been left by the side of the road, relieved of their possessions and stranded.

The rational part of me says, "Go on your vacation. Relax. Don't buy into it, it's hype, it's the media, they'll say anything to scare the shit out of people. Most of the casualties have been people with ties to the gangs, the drugs they sell, or locals in the wrong place at the wrong time". The reactive part of me says, "Who vacations in the middle of a drug war? What if they turn their attention to the areas rife with stupid fat tourists like us? What if they start kidnapping cute curly haired kids for ransom?". A small part of me thinks that they might give back the three and half year old after a few hours, but who knows, maybe kidnappers can get her to behave.

Mr.G can talk all he wants about severed heads, but he has no idea what comes next and neither does anyone else. We can always cancel the trip and take our chances at home which, statistically, we do every day. A friend of mine said after a long discussion this morning, "If something awful happens, it won't be what you thought it would be". That really makes me hope that my luggage gets lost, or that I get Montezuma's Revenge instead of decapitated. My biggest task will be simply controlling my paranoia sufficiently so I that am not constantly dragging my kids by the hair to hide under tables or behind doors because a car backfires or a group of rowdy men enters the restaurant where we are eating. I will be on alert the whole time. I will accidentally order a severed head for dinner because I can't stop thinking about it. I will probably not sleep well. I will dress down so much that other people will think that I am the impoverished nanny. If I return from Punta Mita with my children, my husband and my head, the trip will be a success.
Many thanks to La Familia, the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel-led by Mexico's most-wanted man-Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman. This was supposed to be a relaxing vacation. It isn't exactly free either, so while we try and get the drugs you peddle legalized, maybe you should take a few days off as well? I can imagine that all that massacring has left you more than a little tuckered out. Why not hop on one of your many yachts and sail away somewhere? I hear the jet skiing at Falcon Lake is sublime.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh, Lord, won'tcha buy me......

The call came at 8:37 last Friday morning. It went something like this:

"Ma'am? This is Lieutenant Lord. I am calling from the Air National Guard center in Florida? We received a notification of a distress beacon being activated by your husband, and you are listed as his emergency contact".

I am still in my bathrobe. My husband left an hour ago to take the kids to school, and, to my knowledge, his fancy car is not equipped with an emergency beacon. I have no idea what this Lord character is talking about. Then it hits me- the emergency beacon. My parents.The Grand Canyon. They pushed the button. They pushed the button?!. I explain that I am his daughter, not his wife, and give Lord my father's cell number. Inexplicably, I can't find my step mother's number. I tell him I will have to call him back. I call her office, and her assistant reminds me that she is in the Grand Canyon. Yes, I know this, and so does the National Guard. When I call back with her cell number, I accidentally say "Uh, Lord? I mean, sorry....Lieutenant Lord...what happens now?". God, how I suck in an emergency. It's just that his name reminds me of this time when I was a kid. I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said "Lordy Lordy, Doug is forty". I turned to my father, who wasn't yet forty, and said "heh, heh, too bad your name isn't Doug". He paused and said, kindly,"oh, I don't know, Lordy Lordy John is forty works pretty well". Yeah, I think it took me awhile to find my funny, and luckily my hysterically funny Dad was patient.

Anyway, Lord tells me that they will sending a rescue helicopter if they can't make telephone contact. He also tells me that people often set off the beacon accidentally. I thank him and hang up. I text my sister, who is at a medical conference in Toronto. It feels strange writing "the beacon was activated, helicopter is going in". It makes me feel as if we are in some sort of spy movie, but I have no secret weapons or cool gadgets. I have a distress signal and a guy named Lord. I have no idea what to do. My plan to workout and go to the grocery store seems ludicrous compared to what my parents must be experiencing. It is now ten o'clock. I 'm hunched over the computer researching emergency beacon statistics and running over the various scenarios in my head: did they get injured? are they lost? did they run out of water?

My parents are not weenies. They are not yuppie hikers who decided to conquer the Grand Canyon because their Medicare kicked in. They have been hiking there for thirty years. They moved to Arizona for two years to be close enough to hike the Canyon regularly. They developed a line of dehydrated camping food for God's sake. If there was a pageant, they would win Mr. and Mrs. Grand Canyon, or at the very least be first runners up. I know they didn't accidentally set off the beacon.

I am strangely calm, since I have no information, and I am in the comfort of my home- not sitting at the bottom of one of the seven natural wonders of the world and wondering when help will arrive. I can't seem to leave the house, feeling like I might miss the call if I go to the gym. I don't want to become hysterical at the Trader Joe's check out line if they call asking where to send remains-morbid yes, but entirely possible. I text my sister that we should be glad that they aren't in the middle of some political fray in addition to being injured or sick. We should feel lucky that we aren't having to line up to kiss Bill Clinton's extremely well connected and slim vegetarian behind to get our parents back for us.

By eleven o'clock, I was starting to worry. I have seen enough television movies from the eighties about people trapped on rock faces, or caught in avalanches, and the race with the clock to save them. Someone always dies or loses a limb. What begins as an excursion into nature becomes terrifying and deadly, making the viewer question why anyone would ever leave the safety of their living room.

I end up passing out on my bed at noon with my cell phone cradled in my lap. I wake up at two, bleary and uncertain and take a shower. No news, still. I have the added pressure of concert tickets to see Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl and am feeling funny about leaving this unfinished missing parents business to go drink wine and sing "Learning to Fly" with a bunch of strangers. I leave the house and try to buy picnic stuff but nothing seems appetizing- hey, the Worry Diet! It really works! I end up buying the ingredients to make a picnic at home. I need the therapy and the distraction of cooking. I pick up the kids at school and cook for two hours- roasted veggie salad; quinoa with basil, pine nuts and cranberries; mushroom ravioli with a mushroom duxelle; spicy peanut noodles; and a roasted beet and orange salad with creamy blue cheese and walnuts. I know it's delicious, but it all tastes like chalk to me.

By five, I am getting panicky. I go upstairs to change my clothes a half a dozen times, and, when I come back down, I see I have a missed phone call. I see the number and yell the F-word. Big chimes in "why'd you say fuck, Mom?". Little whispers "fuck fuck fuck" quietly to her dolls. I don't care. I don't even respond. I frantically call back. Dana, the representative from the beacon company, who I'd spoken with earlier in the day, informs me that they have been located. They are alive and seem well enough, but the helicopter is unable to land. She has been told by the pilot that the "woman kept pointing to the man" and that a ground crew is en route. So no one was dead, but they were still down there, stuck. I told her, awkwardly, that I had to go out in a few minutes and to please leave any future messages on my phone. I hang up, wondering if we should just cancel the concert. Thirty minutes later, the phone rings again-this time it is the Arizona dispatch number. I dive for the phone, pick it up and tentatively say "hello?" It is my step mother. They have been airlifted out and are at the hospital. She is okay, he is severely dehydrated. I breath a sigh of relief, welcome her back to the land of the living and pack up the one hitter to go blow off some steam with ZZ Top and Tom Petty. We eat delicious food (even if I do say so myself) and belt out "Don't Come Around Here No More", "Refugee", "American Girl" as if it's finale week on American Idol. I wake up feeling hungover but hopeful.

However, the situation remains unresolved. They just went home today, after nine days in the Flagstaff hospital. Dehydration is a bitch, to say the very least, and sufficient water is truly as important as all the experts claim. No one can say when it will get better, so we can only wish for a speedy, complete recovery. We are lucky, as another man died the same day my parents were airlifted out. He was taking photographs on the edge of the rim when he fell in. He was wearing sandals. My thoughts go out to his girlfriend and to the two bystanders that were struck by not one,but two bolts of lightning that came down from the sky just after he fell. I couldn't help but wonder what the hell that guy did to piss off God that much, even though I don't actually believe in God per se. However, if it was you, oh Lord, God, Ishvar,Yahweh,El Cantare, Allah, Maleldil, Adonai, Buddha, Ganesha- whatever you prefer to be called-that pushed that guy in,threw down those deadly bolts, but let my Dad live, then thanks, really, thanks so very much.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thanks, Sister

In 1994, I lived with my sister in a two bedroom apartment on South Granville Avenue in West Los Angeles. I was twenty five and having a major career slump. We called the area "no man's land", because it was profoundly nondescript and vibeless, with no real neighborhood to speak of. It was also affordable,unlike the hipper eastside neighborhoods we'd lived in before. Our apartment was in one of those peach and brown colored motel style buildings where all of the units faced a grim kidney shaped pool. The year we lived there played like a low-rent version of Melrose Place and had all the requisite drama.
The renters on the first floor consisted of a couple from New Jersey that thought my sister and I were lesbians, despite the obvious family resemblance. He had long Axl Rose hair, a whopping caterpillar mustache, and an accent so thick that it could feed a small African village. She was raspy and skinny and seemed to live in her miniscule two piece bathing suit. They had large pool parties with lots of beer and the likes of Whitesnake and Metallica blasting on the stereo. They also had a black cat that was my cat's Doppelganger. Every time I walked by their open front door, I would see my cat sitting there staring at me balefully and have a mini heart attack, wondering how the hell he got in to their place. Their neighbor was a large single man with curly brown hair, thick glasses and a fairly pronounced case of Tourette's syndrome. We could hear him approaching the building because he was quite loud, following each outburst with multiple apologies-"F*ck! F*ck! F*ck! Sorry..sorry..sorry". He seemed like a nice person, but his affliction definitely kept us from inviting him to the Nuart for the Ingmar Bergman retrospective or out to a quiet dinner.To his left lived an African American couple that pretty much kept to themselves. The only interaction I had with the wife was just after I had put one of my cats to sleep. I came home with the empty carrier, and she was standing in the courtyard. She saw the carrier and said "Awww... who we got in there?" to which I replied "No one" and went upstairs to weep uncontrollably for an hour and a half. Call me antisocial, but if I had tried to explain, I would have lost it in the courtyard, and I really did not want to do that. The last apartment downstairs belonged to a young married couple. He was small and diffident with shoulder length hair,a trimmed mustache and glasses. She was very outdoorsy and wore oversized t-shirts,shorts and Tevas all of the time. I rarely spoke with them or saw them, but the husband sent me an extraordinarily inappropriate note about nine months after we moved in declaring his lust and desire for me and asking me to give him an indication of reciprocation by putting a red ribbon on my door handle. Seeing as he was married, and I did not reciprocate in the slightest, I just tried to avoid all contact for the next few months, which turned doing laundry and taking out the garbage into stealth operations.

Upstairs was even stranger. In the first unit, we had John, an angry heavyset thirtiesh receding redhead who lived in a studio and had subscriptions to Soldier of Fortune and Guns n' Ammo. He was polite,if not solicitous, unless he was randomly shouting "Fucking N&*%ers" in the general direction of the Afrian American couple's apartment when they left their laundry in the machines too long. The first time I heard it, I thought the Tourette's man had changed his repertoire. When I realized that it was coming from the lair of what could easily have been the next Unibomber, we started thinking about moving. Next to John, there was James, a celebrity photographer. He had a sensational portfolio and was kind enough to photograph me as a favor. He went on to publish a beautiful and haunting book of photographs about being American before dying a few years ago from kidney disease. He might have been the only other normal person in the whole building. The studio next to his was a revolving door of random Russians and college students that partied all night and never paid their rent. My sister's room shared their wall, so she spent a lot of time at her boyfriend's apartment to escape the noise. On the other side, there was Michelle, the manager, who lived alone. She was delicate and pale, with short red hair. She kept to herself,or so she thought. She would come home every day after work and grace us with the muffled sounds of self pleasuring. It was a little awkward because if we had a tenant issue, if was difficult to look her in the eye when she answered the door since we knew she wasn't exactly playing Pinochle in there. Next to Michelle lived a pretty Asian woman who we rarely saw, but whose attire suggested that she might be employed in the adult entertainment industry. I once went to deliver a piece of mail to her apartment and saw a magazine on her doorstep. I picked it up to slide it under the door and glanced at the cover. The image on the front was beyond X-rated, the kind that scars a person for life. It made the Cragslist casual encounters page look like a church newsletter. I threw it down like it was covered with ants and went home and washed my hands thoroughly. One Sunday morning, an angry man in a black Corvette showed up, still wearing Saturday night's clothes, and began yelling threats up to her from the driveway. We all watched from the slatted vertical blind covered windows as he revved his engine and hollered. Eventually a shoeless shirtless man bolted out of her apartment and ran away as fast as he could. The Corvette man didn't chase him. He nodded slowly to himself,put onhis sunglasses,got back in his car and drove away, never to be seen again. The final apartment was inhabited by an over zealous cat lover named Arlene who had five giant cats in her one bedroom that were allowed to roam freely outside. During the summer,their presence caused such a flea explosion in the back parking lot that the blacktop was literally pulsating with ten million shiny black jumping fleas, like some low budget sci-fi movie. For two weeks, we listened to the tenant's frantic footsteps, running from their cars at night, vainly trying to escape the inevitable forty fleas catching a ride into their apartments and biting the shit out of their entire body. My sister and I had taken to parking on the street to avoid the flea issue entirely, but they slowly migrated down the driveway. When the Terminix man arrived, thinking it was a straightforward case of fleas, he retreated in a panic, claiming never to have seen such an infestation. He sprayed the parking lot several times and eventually the fleas subsided and the footsteps returned to normal.

One afternoon, just before our lease was up, a nun, dressed in a traditional habit, strolled down the driveway and asked about the room for rent. I assumed she was referring to the crash pad next to our place, where no one stayed more than a few months. She asked if it was a quiet building. I looked at her sweet beaming face, and I pondered this question: with the sporadic racial epithets, the ridiculous pool parties, the constant masturbating, the 3 a.m. parties, the menacing boyfriends, the lust letters, the menagerie of cats, and the guy with Tourette's syndrome-was it quiet? I shook my head. It most certainly wasn't quiet at all, and it really wasn't the place for her. She thanked me-called me an angel- and left. As she walked away, it struck me that the only positive thing about living in that apartment was that it didn't collapse during the big earthquake. I wasn't there when it happened, but my cats survived and most of my stuff did too, so for that I am grateful.
I looked up at the peeling peach colored paint and banal exterior of the building and realized that, for the past year, life had been more bizarre at the place I called home than anything I was exposed to in outside world.It was definitely time to go. Definitely. I owe a thank you to the kind Sister, who I hope found herself a cozy place to hang her habit. She may not have saved my soul, but she sure helped me see the light.